How to Nourish a Design Driven Culture within an Organization

910 607 Jennifer Hahn Masterson

design teamwork

In today’s competitive world businesses and brands that place emphasis on design are going to have an advantage. According to the Design Management Institute’s Design Value Index, design-driven companies have maintained a significant stock-market advantage, outperforming the S&P 500 by a whopping 219% over a ten year period. The New Design Frontier report by Invision found that organizations who have invested in and focused on design, experience improved product usability, increased customer satisfaction, and financial gain.

Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the benefits of design, many businesses neglect it’s importance throughout their organization. A key point to take away from this article is that design culture doesn’t happen on it’s own; it needs to be intentionally initiated, regularly cared for, and continually implemented. Below are a few strategies to help foster a design centric organization.

Truly understanding the customer

Good design means nothing if not tailored properly towards it’s intended audience. This is where many companies face problems; focussing solely on understanding what customers want, and not why they want it. The solution lies in learning how and why people use and experience a company’s products or services. This can be achieved through workshops, focus groups, beta releases, usability testing, etc; all while focusing on what customers say, do and feel. What they “say” in focus groups or more anonymous online forums, what they do when using a product or visiting a website, and how they feel when experiencing a product.

Knowledge taken away from this research can then be used towards improving customer empathy/advocacy, product design & development, advertising, messaging and so on. This approach is how companies like Walmart increased their website traffic by 200% with a redesign of their e-commerce store, and Bank of America increased their online account registrations by 45% after a UI revamp. This empathetic approach is crucial to enabling stronger customer relationships, enhancing brand loyalty, and honing design efforts.

Enabling designer leadership

The days where designers were seen as an afterthought within an organization are a thing of the past. An organization that seeks to develop and progress needs to enable designer leadership, allow their participation in executive decision making, and ensure designers play an essential role throughout entire company projects. A prime example of a designer playing a key role within a company is the great Tony Ive. Not only was Tony Apple’s product designer, he was Steve Jobs right hand man throughout the company’s most innovative period; having created the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad together. “He’s not just a designer… that’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me.” Jobs once stated.

steve jobs & tony ive

Building your team from talented individuals

To adapt to a culture of design thinking and transform the mindsets of workers within an organization, it requires patience, effort, strategy, and know-how. According to the teachings of IED Barcelona’s new master degree course in interaction design, talented individuals who possess both technical and empathic skills, coupled with the capability of critical thinking driven by curiosity and experimentation, are the ones who should be at the core of the organization. They are the digital leaders of tomorrow who can overcome disciplinary and cultural boundaries, and design solutions that address individual and business needs.

Promoting knowledge sharing

For a team of any kind to be successful, its philosophy and methods of operation require the full cooperation of it’s members. A team that lacks camaraderie and communication will suffer from disconnect. The best way to overcome any substantial differences amongst team members and departments is to encourage collaboration. Rather than keeping each department (design, marketing, development, etc) separated, instead create an interactive environment that promotes knowledge sharing, debate and flow of ideas. To persuade group interaction and relationship building, consider required meetings and after-work gatherings.

Creating an environment suitable for design growth

Just as collaboration between staff is important, establishing a less rigid, more comfortable and inspirational work environment can enhance productivity and creativity. This is especially true for designers who require time reserved for inspiration, brainstorming and deliberation. While this concept of allowing more flexibility and time away from immediate tasks may seem counter productive, more and more experts and CEO’s are finding that allowing creativity actually leads to productivity.

Consider also, the growing body of research which supports the benefits of permitting workers more breaks during a work day, more time off, and fun in the work place. As this NYT article describes, not only does this approach improve employee satisfaction, loyalty and health, it has shown to increase productivity. And according to behavior scientist Nir Eyal, work breaks can reduce mental fatigue, improve brain function and increase creativity. So to get the most out of a design team (and an entire workforce), consider a more relaxed work environment. Not only will employees be happier, more refreshed, and less likely to seek employment elsewhere, they’ll be more prepared to develop great ideas and provide solutions to lingering problems.

Facilitating and encouraging innovation

To attract and keep the best design talent, it’s important to provide an environment that doesn’t stifle a designer’s creative and problem solving tendencies. While there will always be monotonous and mundane work assignments, a certain amount of time and resources should be allocated towards reflection and innovation. Not only will designers welcome the challenge of working on something fresh and potentially ground breaking, it will boost their moral and sense of pride and accomplishment, it will encourage inventiveness. Most of the world’s top brands allocate billions in revenue towards research and development because they know that without new ideas and innovation, there is stagnation and limited growth.


Jennifer Hahn Masterson

Jennifer is the Lead Content Strategist at <a href="">Spread The Word Solutions</a>, holding an MA degree in business communication. She is always doing her best to help her clients find their place in the ever so competitive business arena, insisting on long-term sustainability rather than on some questionable get-rich-fast scheme. You can find Jennifer on <a href="">LinkedIn</a>.

All stories by: Jennifer Hahn Masterson